Sunday, February 19, 2012

Quinquagesima Sunday

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 / Luke 18:31-34

Love is patient.

Anyone who has been to a wedding, certainly to a Catholic wedding, is more than likely to have heard this passage before from Paul's letter to the Corinthians. Indeed, for those who are priests or Church musicians, or who find themselves at that age when friend after friend is getting married, it can be easy to have our minds wander when the reading begins. If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love ... Right. Got it. Check. Poke me when I need to pay attention again.

It's not, of course, that we think the matter of the letter is untrue. Surely love is, or by rights ought to be, patient, kind, envy not, deal not perversely, not be puffed up, ambitious, seeking its own, provoked to anger, thinking evil, or rejoicing in iniquity, but rather out to rejoice with the truth. All the same, when this reading evokes for us the freshness of marital love, of newlyweds caught up in the hopes and dreams of a new life together, it is hard not to hear in this litany of love's virtues more a pious hyperbole than anything real. It is at best an aspiration of human relating, but not something we would ever encounter, much less live.

However, suppose in hearing Paul's encomium of love, our minds turned not to marital bliss, but rather to him who turned from the successes of Galilee to go up to Jerusalem that he might be delivered to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and scourged, and spit upon: and after they have scourged him, they will put him to death. That is, what if we recalled that for Paul to highlight first that love is patient, he means more, far more, exceedingly more than that love means waiting to start dinner because one's spouse is late from work or even giving one's partner time to make a difficult decision about a job. No, to be patient, at root, means being able to be done to, that is, to suffer. In other words, the hallmark of love, the love of which Paul spoke, is to embrace the suffering that, in this vale of tears, is simply convertible with what it means to live. Love, then, is to affirm and embrace life, and in embracing life here and now means inevitably and unavoidably, to suffer.

This is the love which Paul calls us to remember, the love not of man and wife, but rather the love of God, a God who chose to suffer, in the flesh, yes, and also in rejection by those he came to love. He chose to suffer because he chose to live our life, and to draw this broken, painful, suffering life up into his own glory and joy. He suffered because he lived, and lived because he loved, and in that love, we will partake of his life, and in him and by his suffering, we shall rise again.

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